This ’90s show is now streaming on Netflix.
In an era of reboots, revivals, and sequels of beloved classics, That ’70s Show — which aired from 1998 to 2006 — has been reborn and unlike the failed attempt at that ’80s show, this ’90s show succeeds as a continuation of the story of the Foreman family in Point Place, Wisconsin, Even if it builds very heavily on its predecessor at times.
Set 15 years after the end of That ’70s Show, this ’90s show finds Eric Foreman (Topher Grace) and Donna Pinciotti (Laura Prepon) living happily married in Chicago and parents to an awkward young adult named Leah (Kale Haverda). They visit Eric’s parents – Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp) and Red (Kurtwood Smith) – in Point Place, Wisconsin on the Fourth of July before Eric and Leah go on father-daughter space camp. But after bonding with “riot grrrl” – next-door Gwen (Ashley Aufderheide) and her friends, Leah asks to spend the rest of the summer with her grandparents. Her new friends downstairs consist of grunge music lover Gwen; Gwen Hembaugh’s half-brother Nate (Maxwell Assey Donovan); his controlling, intelligent girlfriend Nikki (Sam Morelos); the cynical realist Ozzie (Ren Dui); And charismatic soccer player Jay Kelso (Miss Coronel) — yes, son of Michael (Ashton Kutcher) and Jackie Kelso (Mila Kunis).
This ’90s show sticks to the same format and mood as the original series. Kids spend the summer doing random whoops, from attending a rave party to picking up free stuff from Pennysaver to having hilarious, deep discussions while they get high. Leia is lovable as a wallflower – basically the girl’s version of her teen dad. Nate and Nikki, like Michael Kelso and Jackie, are the shallow, mismatched couple. Ozzie is the quirky Asian kid living in Wisconsin who is comparable to Fez (Wilmer Valderrama), who was also seen as quirky. Gwen is as rebellious as Eric’s best friend Stephen Hyde (Danny Masterson). And Jay is a dumbass version of Donna, the love interest. If the formula worked before, it should work again, right? To some extent, sure. The characters are individually comical — especially Ozzie, whose sarcastic personalities are amusing — but as a group, they lack the chemistry that underlies the drama of their relationship. Until the season finale, which ended in an emotional trauma, felt flat and unearned.
The show continues the ’90s well with its music and cute appeals to Glamor Shots, surprise boy bands, Blockbuster, and even the movie Clerks – leading to a hilarious moment when Leah, who’s never seen Clerks, invents that she’s the favorite movie and Kevin Smith’s was “so hot.” in that”. It’s also fun to see Red and Kitty adapt to the ever-changing society with their introduction to the Internet. Kitty believes, at some point, that the government can hear everything through a computer. Whisper to him, “I loved you in Arsenio, Bill”—referring to the president at the time, Bill Clinton, on the 1990s talk show The Arsenio Hall Show.
The chain really works because of its connective tissue with the original with Kitty, Red, Fez, and many more cameos appearing. Fans of That ’70s Show can expect plenty of gags and easter eggs, with the pilot episode in particular absolutely reference-packed. It will definitely be a treat for those wondering what happened to the beloved characters except for Hyde (due to Masterson’s legal troubles). Rupp, Smith, and Valderrama return to their roles as if no time has passed, with Valderrama stealing every scene he’s in. While it’s fun to see some familiar characters and unexpected returns in the series, newcomers may not understand the inside jokes or its comedy. For example, several cameos from Leo (’70s icon Tommy Chung) made sense on That ’70s Show, but some viewers today wouldn’t understand his role on the series as anything other than a stoner hippie.
This ’90s show is at its best when the gags relate to the original series, especially with the high circuit and dealing with Red and Kitty. But that puts a lot of weight on the older cast members when the show should focus on the kids of today – or in this case, the kids of the ’90s. This does not mean that if they are given a second season, they cannot improve in that aspect. Teen characters have the potential to be better than their predecessors, but nepotism can get you so far.